University of Calgary

Incubating Impact

Submitted by tdroden on Fri, 05/29/2015 - 16:44.

Incubating Impact

Just as the engagement needs differ for baby boomers and millennials in the workplace, so do the motivational drivers at universities. Lessons learned
by Deb Cummings

Craig Kielburger revving up 16,000 fans at We DayCraig Kielburger revving up 16,000 fans at We Day

We all know millennials have no memory of a planet without the World Wide Web, or cellphones or personal computers. They are the Internet-surfing, iPoding, texting, Googling, Facebooking, Snapchatting, Instagramming generation. As a parent of two millennials, I know if I didn’t text, Skype or Facetime, I wouldn’t communicate with them.

But that’s just a parent, “talking.”

What about our professors who are desperate to reach and teach this generation — those born between 1980 and the mid-2000s — that spend more time using electronic media than any other activity, except sleeping?

As parents, we know how tough it is to compete for our children’s attention — so, just how are teachers doing it?

Sure, many profs employ classroom clickers, smart boards, PowerPoints, videos, even state-of-the-art digital visualization studios — but do these devices actually deepen intellectual engagement? Or do we need something more in order to raise a generation of students who truly want to explore real-world issues and make lasting social change? Is there no room for old-school shameless idealism on campus anymore?

Millennials view work as a key part of life, not a separate activity that needs to be balanced by it. For that reason, they place a strong emphasis on finding work that’s personally fulfilling.

“Yes, there certainly is,” says Werklund School of Education associate professor Brittany Harker Martin, whose research examines how social empowerment can motivate and engage youth. And, she adds, when properly leveraged, idealism can catalyze learning, entrepreneurship and ethical reasoning.

“Being able to Google an answer before a teacher has finished asking it, is bound to effect the old educational model of input-output,” says Harker Martin from the university’s Werklund Youth Leadership Centre, of which she is director.

“We need to do far more to engage and inspire this generation, which is why this centre has rolled out several community-wide programs, like a speaker series, so we can tap into kids as young as 12. This generation has a huge appetite for heroes — those who are committed to making the world a better place.”

If you were lucky enough last November to hear one of Canada’s most recognizable social activists, Craig Kielburger, speak on campus, after hosting 16,000 youthful do-gooders at We

Day at the Scotiabank Saddledome, you saw plenty of kids, as well as hundreds of university students, faculty, staff and older Me to We fans.

Millennials are the most diverse generation — economically, politically, ethnically, racially and culturally — that North American institutions of higher learning have ever welcomed.

“Craig really embodies youth empowerment, which is one of the values of this generation,” says Harker Martin. “I think the Internet gives instant visibility to change agents, and youth today are connected to that. Look at the initiatives happening in schools today — so many are started by kids themselves. We see youth — like Kielburger, who, as a 12-year-old boy, went to Asia to learn more about child labour — doing things that people assume are not possible.

“Bringing in inspiring speakers, provocative panelists or organizing hands-on workshops is what we believe we need to do more of,” she says, adding that, due to tough economic times, today’s young adults have been forced to rethink success so that it’s less about material prosperity and more about something else.

And, for Kielburger, “that something else” is social entrepreneurship.

“Educational institutes at all levels need to go far beyond imparting knowledge which was good enough for so long,” he said at an on-campus interview. “What I am seeing in youth is a hunger to make a difference ... what they want in a successful career is a sense of meaning where lives have purpose, value and impact.”